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Ukraine of 2014 and Europe of 1938-1939: Similarities and differences

Ukraine of 2014 and Europe of 1938-1939: Similarities and differences
By Razom for Ukraine; illustration by Slovo i Dilo


The longer the world waits to deal with Putin forcefully, the dearer the price the world will pay: It is time for overdue Level 3 sectoral sanctions against Russia, military equipment for Ukraine, and for the deployment and engagement of NATO forces.

Europe was asleep on the eve of World War II when Germany invaded central and eastern neighbors. Had Europe awoken earlier, countless European and American lives could have been saved.

Today Putin’s Russia follows a nearly identical path. Putin’s vision and plans strain credulity, and even as he follows through, the world cannot believe what it is seeing – just as it was unable to believe Hitler’s stated intentions. This war, a criminal and illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia, is merely the beginning, not the end. If the United States does not forcefully steer history, then Putin will.

The climate of 2014 is similar to conditions 75 years ago:

  1.  Amid economic slumps and war fatigue, short-term concerns crowd out long-term judgment. Both Putin and Hitler leveraged this to the fullest, confident that world leaders would put near-term interests ahead of invasions and cleansings perceived to be far away or provincial;
  2. Europe’s extreme right-wing and far-right nationalist parties rally, stymieing the effective and forceful responses required;
  3. International leaders are complicit in dismissing a sovereign nation’s right to self-determination. Putin invades, then seeks to negotiate Ukraine’s fate with others, often refusing to acknowledge Ukraine’s own government. Similarly, in 1938 Czechoslovakia was not invited to the Munich conference where the Czech Sudetenland was ceded to Nazi Germany.

Within this context, the compiled table of similarities and differences indicates the need for urgent and forceful action. The similarities make it clear that Putin is building on Hitler’s lessons learned; the differences show that Putin may pose a much graver threat. (See tables below).

Putin claimed he was protecting Russians from neo-Nazi and Fascist “Banderite” mobs, but they never materialized: those hordes never existed. On the contrary, the greatest threat to Russians, both in and outside of Ukraine, is Putin himself. His import bans and threats to cut off gas imperil their welfare. The separatists he armed blow up bridges, take civilian hostages, and destroy civil infrastructure. These are the acts of a terrorist. Putin simply wishes to exterminate Ukraine – and then anyone else he perceives to be in his way.

Similarities: The parallels are indicators of the playbook that Putin is following.

A mythological nation-empire to galvanize support

Putin’s culturally pure “Russkiy Mir”/Novorossiya serves the same purpose as Hitler’s racially pure “Third Reich”. World leadership dismiss the nonsense while masses immersed in state propaganda rally to it.

Legislated persecution of sexual-orientation minorities

The brutal treatment of sexual-orientation and other minorities in and of itself demands the world intervene on behalf of vulnerable populations.

Broken treaties

Russia signed the Budapest Memorandum as a guarantor of borders, just as Germany had guaranteed the integrity of Czechoslovakia and Poland.

Staged referendum to justify illegal annexations

The illegal annexation of Crimea and phony referendum in 2014 is nearly identical to the 1938  Anschluss of Austria and the Annexation of Czech Sudetenland.

Disregard for Geneva Conventions

Civilian populations are essentially hostages, used as pawns by an aggressor who does not share any respect for human life.

Self-appointed defender of a manufactured constituency

Putin claimed to be protecting all Russians or Russian-speaking peoples, just as Hitler claimed to defend German populations living abroad

Differences: Notable differences may prove Putin’s Russia to be an even greater threat to global security than 1938 Germany was.


Putin’s phased invasion met phlegmatic international resistance, as the world willed itself into believing that each incremental aggressive step was his final one. He has been advancing patiently for over a decade.

Lessons learned

Putin draws lessons from the well-documented experiences of Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler, and builds on the lessons learned.

Level of corruption

The extremely high level of corruption across Russia means Putin cannot count on the efficiency and effectiveness of his state machinery, as could Hitler, and so will have to resort to a far more brutal regime.

Nuclear arms

Putin can utterly destroy life as we know it in a single afternoon. His threat of a nuclear strike demands an immediate forceful response to stop him, as otherwise he will reach that milestone incrementally. Putin has not yet uttered a single threat that he has not seen through.

Economic ties

Russia’s engagement in financial markets means sanctions are resisted by leaders and businessmen who are loathe to incur financial losses.

REFERENCES: For more information and additional resources, contact [email protected].

[hr]By: Razom for Ukraine, a non-profit organization established to support the people of Ukraine in their continued quest for democracy, justice, and human rights

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